The wheeling and dealings that turned the once mighty Gaborone United Sporting Club from a position of football power and professionalism to the shadows of regress and relegation could have never been predicted. STAFF WRITER, MOSIMANEGAPE TSHOSWANE sees the club’s kingpins shifting sands to control the club’s once bold investor, Nicholas Zakhem, who unfortunately never saw his grip diminishing.
Gaborone United was once the envy of other premier league teams. But nobody saw the popularity of the club fading away as internal blood wars gradually ate away the soul of Moyagoleele. In the permitting impressive years of 2010 and 2011, GU had opened an insurmountable gap between itself and other elite clubs in as far as football commercialisation is concerned.
A committee chaired by the brains of Dr Nkomazana was to later study and comprehend strategies and all modalities that were to enable GU house to stand forever. Among others, the GU constitution was amended and an entity called Soccer Dynamics was instituted as a vehicle driving the commercial wing of the team.
Through it, business guru, Nicholas Zakhem was the majority shareholder with 51 percent while the remaining 49 percent was given to the club’s society, Gaborone United. All was set and done as GU was an instant marvel both in the boardroom and on the field of play. This is the reason the memory of the team’s 2010 Confederation of African Football (CAF) Champions League performance is still alive and vivid to those who love the club with unbridled passion.
No any other GU’s die hard follower will forget the club’s historic battle against South Africa’s power house Orlando Pirates. The club had also brought in the auspicious mettle of one Tymon Katholo, as the President to bolster a team well versed with football administration. But eight years from now, GU’s cross town rivals Township Rollers have knocked The Reds off their perch. GU is instead, a picture of exasperation that is walking through storms of debts and regrets.
While it is increasingly becoming difficult to put together the fall of The Reds, all football conspiracy theories point to a heavy fall out amongst GU’s file and rank kingpins. Rather, it is slightly common knowledge that in the winter of 2015, elections happened. They could not further tighten the team’s football ambition, but instead triggered the team’s fall from the dizzy highways.
Until now, nobody at the heart of Moyagoleele knows exactly what happened between the saviour Katholo and the messiah Zakhem — all information of the club point fingers of blame towards ballooning egos clash between the two men. Zakhem is a man whom many of his critics have always questioned his football exploits. But what is not in doubt is that he has transformed GU from a mediocre club to a championship material. He managed to pay the best players in the League and went on to win several championships.
Those close to him believe that he is a good schemer who knows how to maneuver the unpredictable football terrain such that most football administrators do not like crossing his path. There is rumour in the football circles that he has never lost a football matter especially those involving the fight for players.
On the other hand, Katholo is regarded as one of the shrewdest administrators in local football although of late he has seen his hands dipped in GU blood. His admirers credit him with honesty, principle and fairness. But this is a man who has investigated Zakhem while working as DCEC chief. As the team was rattled by alleged election rigging in 2015, Katholo later emerged as a lead character of a group that filed a case of defamation against Zakhem.
It is stated on several platforms that the two men are two poles apart in the running of GU. Katholo stood for the position of chairmanship but lost to Okaile Rapula. He is now leading beleaguered GU as an ‘elder’ of the club. Despite his perceived strained relationship with Zakhem, mostly arising from the football politics, many still believe that he is a man who acts on facts. But others continue to question his integrity as an elder of the club.
It is further feared that this apparent attitude if not addressed will cost GU many silverware. Ironically, Katholo as an elder of GU is expected to come face to face with Zakhem to negotiate better terms for the club to return to glory. On Monday of this week, the business mogul expressed his interest in working with whoever is running the club. It remains to be seen if Katholo and co will open their hearts to accommodate Zakhem lest it will be a marriage of convenience.
GU faces a precarious situation they never confronted before. They stand of the brink of collapse should they fail to pay sacked player P400 000. It is either relegation or Zakhem! The current Secretary General of the club co-opted by elder’s committee, Kennedy Ramojela argues that there is no rift between Katholo and Zakhem. He is of the view that elders want proper procedures to be followed for Zakhem to rejoin the team he says he adores the most.
“It is a perception that the two men are not seeing eye-to-eye. Elders want procedures to be followed to the letter for Zakhem to come again on board,” he said. GU is currently toying with the idea of renegotiating with Chippa United where its two players have been purchased. The initial agreement was that Chippa was to pay in installments until next year June.
It was agreed that P 200 000 be paid after registration is finally completed. The second installment, which is P 500 000 is expected to be dropped in December while the last P 500 000 will be completed in June of next year. GU badly needs this money to retrace the redemption road. Zakhem in the meantime is watching as the clock ticks.
Botswana Football Association (BFA) is running without a substantive Technical Director since parting ways with South African native, Serame Letsoaka, who jumped ship midway through his contract in 2019.
This glaring revelation has left the Technical Department of the association hamstrung to fully operate by the book hence a plethora of problems protruding on the very nose of it.
This is the reason it took long for the association to take stern action against Zebras gaffer, Adel Amrouche. His departure was sanctioned at the eleventh hour when players’ patience had long wilted, threatening to leave the camp.
Pundits will therefore observe that it is the absence of a Technical Director that has caused all hell to break loose at Lekidi Football Centre.Since the departure of Letsoaka, the TD position has been more or less vacant as it has been manned by unqualified and somewhat incompetent administrators to date.
The TD position requires a CAF A-License qualification as well as a Diploma in Secondary Education as minimum qualifications. Among the specific duties of TD is; training and development of coaches, including design and updating of coaches manuals, facilitating licensing courses, developing a coaches Code of Conduct, arranging for expert and specialist coaches to deliver training clinics, education on rules of the game and creating and maintaining a library of resources including books, videos and articles for coaches to access.
The responsibility also include establishing and delivering a comprehensive and nationwide Grassroots programme at both the community level, in schools, and in the schools through clubs through strategic partnerships within the communities and with various government ministries and agencies.
TD also advices BFA on all matters related to the effective development of football in Botswana and is accountable for the development of a strategy and policy for the performance of football programmes.
Other duties include working with Youth National teams and coaches through development programmes in order to enable BFA to attain its goals within CAF and FIFA, including putting in place clear systems and processes for identifying and developing talented players.
After Letsoaka left, BFA reached out to Wire Kaelo, a Gaborone United legend currently holding the position of assistant coach at Security System FC, but eventually he was not appointed to the post.
Despite rumours to the effect that BFA had agreed terms with Kaelo to this day, the Association has not come out as to what happened to the alleged marriage.
BFA subsequently appointed one Dr Carolin Braun, on secondment from the German Olympic organisation, a move that left the association rooted in abrasive factionalism.
In particular, local coaches and the general football fanatics have always cried foul claiming that Dr Braun is not fit to hold the position of TD especially in a growing football environment like Botswana.
There is growing concern that Dr Braun does not have the pre-requisite credentials to be appointed for this plum post as she has never held any significant position within the football fraternity, not even at amateur level.
“It was a first in the history of Botswana football to see a TD doubling up as assistant coach to the senior national team and there has been no tangible coaching courses since the departure of Serame Letsoaka and this has been attributable to the vacant position of TD,” a source remarked.
BFA is currently failing to communicate CAF’s decision that the ill-fated CAF “B” and “C” courses held during Serame’s last days were not sanctioned and therefore attendants will not be certificated.
Over 50 local coaches participated in the courses and last year, most of those coaching in the Premier League had to be given waivers by the BFA Technical Committee before they could be accredited.
CAF has since indicated that the issue of waivers by national associations will not be entertained, something which might throw local games into disarray.BFA is still failing to come up with a coaching philosophy despite Serame having started groundwork before his departure.
Other countries such as Zambia have since resumed CAF coaching courses whilst in Botswana is still business as usual despite the impending challenges caused by indiscretion and lack of foresight.
Despite BFA having advertised the position of TD and subsequently holding interviews where recommendations were done by the Technical and Development Committee, the BFA NEC has refused to endorse the recommendation for reasons only best known to them.
Yet, there is a lingering fact that the NEC is clueless when it comes to technical matters. There is not even a single individual in the NEC who holds any coaching qualification including the Chairman of the member responsible for technical and development matters, Masego Ntshingane.
When asked about the position of the TD, Ntshingane said the association is well aware of the matter and will son fill the post. “Yes, it is true the association has not appointed a TD after Letsoaka’s departure, but we are working around the clock to hire capable people,” he said.
However, local coaches believe that it’s a travesty of justice to expect non-technical people to make meaningful contributions on technical matters to the extent that they can veto recommendations from a committee of renowned technical experts.
It is not business as usual in the operations manual of African football. Ever since the ascendency of Dr. Patrice Motsepe to the CAF plum post, the African football governing body is ringing changes to satisfy the demands and governance standards of the modern game.
However, it appears that what is coming out from the high offices of the game is a bitter pill to swallow for local clubs, some of which are touted to be the best in the land.
Connectedly, CAF has issued a circular to the effect that only coaches holding the CAF “A” education license will be permitted to sit on the technical dugout during the upcoming inter club competitions. This communication has been sent to all 54 CAF member associations in May 2021.
However, it seems local clubs have not been appraised on this development even though both Jwaneng Galaxy and Orapa United have shown desire to represent the country in the CAF competitions.
It comes to the fore now that the two clubs can successfully represent the country if they engage coaches with the pre-requisite qualifications which is now an insurmountable task due to the COVID-19 impact on club finances.
Both clubs have hired coaches who attended the ill-fated BFA conducted CAF “B” and “A” coaching courses which were held in Lobatse almost two years ago.
To date the coaches await the completion of the courses and certificates while CAF has made it clear that the courses were not sanctioned as they were held during the era that coaching licenses were suspended, a situation that BFA was well aware of and has since accepted the consequences.
The BFA is still at sixes and sevens on how to break the issue to the affected coaches as it is likely to cause a huge public embarrassment and backlash from the coaching fraternity.
“We all know about the problem, BFA is promising to come to the bottom of the matter as we continue to engage them,” says Botswana Football Coaches Association (BFCA) interim President, Daniel Nare.
CAF has also made it clear that this time there will be no waiver for coaches without the pre-requisite qualification because the Confederation has been too lenient in the past. During the last CAF Champions League and Confederations Cup, both Galaxy and Orapa United coaches were given a reprieve by CAF Technical Department as they did not even have the CAF “B” license.
When approached for clarity, the Spokesperson for Galaxy, Tankiso Morake said they are playing a waiting game when it comes to CAF issues especially that BFA is yet to reply to their letter. “Honestly, there is nothing concrete I can share because no one is certain about anything. We are waiting to be replied by the association so that we can finalize everything,” he said.
While United was not available for comment, it is clear that both clubs will need to hire coaches with the needed qualifications otherwise playing in this year’s edition of African football mirrors a tomorrow that may never come.
A recent study shows that Township Rollers is not only popular within the perimeters of Botswana, but has also made significant steps within the digital football platforms in Africa.
Out of the 70 African football clubs ranked on the African football digital benchmark, Township Rollers comes on the 35th position backed by a massive social media following. The club website records more than 399 000 followers and is seen as the most interactive in the local game.
This is consistent with the recent study conducted by FIFA- world football governing body- that Rollers is the only team locally that makes use of its digital platforms.
Notably, it comes out that the gap between Township Rollers and the rest of the 15 Premier League clubs is abysmal, this therefore works against creating a strong BPL brand value.
Rollers is the only club with more than 50 000 followers on Facebook, more than 20 000 followers on Twitter while its Instagram platform stands strong at 27 800 followers.
However, it is found out that much of the BPL brand value is killed by some social Facebook football fan accounts. They have stood long and have thus attracted more followers than the official accounts. Pages like Killers Pass and Botswana Football have consequently seen more than 100 000 following. Both of the accounts give 24 hour on-going updates of football’s latest news, transfers, results, video and live updates.
FIFA has therefore come to a conclusion that the two social media pages have grown interactive since they incite followers to answer and present their impressions about local football.
It comes into the open that 70 percent of domestic premier league clubs do not have official websites. This according to FIFA, kills the brand and visibility of clubs hence failure to attract lucrative sponsors by the clubs. FIFA also found out that the remaining 30 percent of clubs with websites are lacklustre and found wanting when it comes to their online presence. But in this regard, Rollers is on pole position.